HAVANA, Cuba – Cuba cleared the way Friday, April 22, for the resumption of cruise voyages from the United States, lifting a restriction on Cubans entering or leaving the country by sea.
The change of a rule that dates back to the Cold War and stemmed from fears of a US-backed invasion from the sea was announced in a statement published in the communist party newspaper Granma. The restriction will be lifted Tuesday.
The change – until now Cubans could enter or leave the country only by plane – is yet another offshoot of the restoration of diplomatic relations last year between Havana and Washington.
Its climax was a historic visit to Cuba last month by President Barack Obama.
Commercial flights between the two countries are also expected to resume soon.
Leisure giant Carnival, which has permission from both governments to run cruise ships between Florida and Cuba, welcomed the Cuban announcement.
Initially, because of the now-lifted restriction, Carnival could not accept reservations from people born in Cuba.
The first ship had been due to set sail for Havana on May 1.
Amid an uproar from Miami’s large Cuban-American community, largely opposed to the Cuban government, and from the US government, Carnival reversed course and said it would take reservations from people of Cuban origin.
Carnival had said it was in talks with the Cuban government on lifting the maritime entry and exit restriction and warned that the first cruise would be postponed unless the Cubans changed their policy.
The government statement published Friday said Cubans can now enter and leave the country by sea “regardless of their migratory status.”
The restriction on Cubans entering by sea goes back to the tensest days of the Cold War, after the Cuban Revolution of 1959.
It was designed to prevent anti-communist militants from landing on Cuban shores to try to overthrow the government, as in the failed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961 against Fidel Castro.
As it freed up maritime travel Friday, the government urged the United States to find ways “to prevent and confront the carrying out of terrorist actions against Cuba, which were what gave rise to the regulation” in the first place.
The lifting of the restriction on Cubans leaving by sea is also sensitive.
Many Cubans fleeing poverty attempt to reach Florida in rickety vessels and dangerous trips.
Now, those trips are no longer illegal. And they had already been on the rise.
Cubans feared that with the resumption of ties with Washington, the Americans will end a preferential policy under which Cuban migrants who make it to land in America are allowed to stay, but sent back if caught at sea.
Despite the restoration of ties, the United States has maintained its trade embargo against Cuba, and regular, full-fledged US tourism to Cuba is still banned. – Rappler.com
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